Kingston HyperX Cloud II Review
Gamers love flashy things. We need bright colors, sharp angles, and enough LEDs on our equipment to land an aircraft. For the most part, hardware manufacturers know this, and we as buyers allow these companies to put form before function, often turning a blind eye as we are sold mediocre-performing yet sexy keyboards, headsets, controllers, and more. Thankfully, Kingston has taken a very different approach with the release of their HyperX Cloud line of headsets, aimed at gamers who care more about substance than standing out. Last year saw the release of the original HyperX Cloud, which was favorably reviewed for its subdued looks yet sharp, clean sound. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to try out the original model of Cloud, so my experience with the brand is limited to the newer HyperX Cloud II, which I will be reviewing today.
Before I get into the meat of the review, let me first say that I am by no means the world’s leading expert on audio equipment and the science of sound. However, I am somewhat of an enthusiast in the field, and I’d like to think that I know quite a bit about different aspects of audio. My fledgling audiophile gear collection consists of a variety of gaming headsets and standard headphones, as well as some decent studio monitors. In order to really put the HyperX Cloud IIs through their paces, I will be comparing them to all of my equipment. Now, onward to the review!
While the HyperX Cloud II certainly doesn’t seem to pride itself on being overly flashy, Kingston has done a great job of creating some attractive packaging. Getting past the outer sleeve (which features product specs and some marketing) leads to a svelte gray protective box with tasteful black HyperX branding. Peeling this box open then presents the headset itself, along with its accessories: a detachable microphone, carrying pouch, airline plug adapter, extra velour earpads, and most importantly of all, a 7.1 USB sound card/dongle. A message on the inside of the box welcomes users to the HyperX experience, and does a perfect job to add to the premium feel of the product as a whole. It’s the same kind of feeling I got while unboxing my MSI R9 290X Lightning a while back, and I wish more companies put just as much care into making their customers feel loved!
Upon taking the cans out of their box, I was immediately reminded of just why these feature Cloud branding. The headset is extremely light, yet it maintains a high-end feel through the use of brushed metal arms that connect the earcups to the headband, as well as some gorgeous black HyperX stitching along the aforementioned headband. The set terminates in a 4 pole 3.5mm plug, so you can use the mic and headphones all with one connection, but more on this in the pros and cons later. The color scheme of the set I received from Kingston is black and silver, which is sure to look quite snazzy in any setup. However if you are into colors the company also offers a red and black variation, and maybe even a special edition pink set if you can find it! But enough with the looks, just how do these little beauties sound? Read on to find out!
The audiophile community is notorious for its practices when it comes to testing and judging gear. Some prefer to break in their equipment, letting music and white noise pass through newly purchased drivers for tens or even hundreds of hours before ever giving them a listen. Others insist new products be tested with specific digital to analog converters (DACs), or purpose-built amplifiers in order to get true results. I went with a much simpler approach, and used the HyperX Cloud IIs in my everyday routine to see how they held up. As mentioned before, I also took the time to compare them with three other headphones/headsets I own – the California Headphone Company Silverados, Skullcandy SLYRs, and Tritton’s wireless Primer – as well as my M-Audio BX5 Carbon Black studio monitors.
After almost two weeks of consistent use, let me just say that these Kingston cans sound pretty damn great for a product geared toward gamers and only costing $100. While connected through either the 3.5mm plug or the USB dongle, highs were clear and bright, and never seemed too piercing while testing with either games or music. Mids were terrific as well, and were certainly not as recessed or hollow as you would expect from a typical consumer grade audio product. Finally, bass was definitely present and controlled, yet not extremely punchy or overwhelming. Overall, I would even go so far as to call these the most analytical headphones I’ve listened to not geared toward the professional market.
In comparison to my other gear, the Cloud IIs held up quite well. Right from the start of testing with my gaming rig I noticed the Kingston unit wiped the floor with my Tritton and Skullcandy offerings. Both of the latter headsets were more or less empty in comparison, lacking satisfying depth in their sounds. My Primer wireless headset in particular had a very anemic sound signature, but the SLYRs were a bit closer to the fuller, quality sound of the Cloud IIs. Continuing, the CHC Silverados I recently came into possession of did end up being marginally more fun sounding than the Kingstons, if only because the bass in those headphones is significantly beefed up. If you’re looking for accuracy though, that extra bass isn’t really what you want. And speaking of accuracy, the Cloud IIs are definitely more neutral than most gaming and consumer oriented products, but they are still not quite as flat as my BX5 monitors. In other words, don’t expect these to become your new favorites for mixing.
Of course, with all of the positive, there must also be some downside. For the HyperX Cloud II headset, the negatives are more like a few minor disappointments than true letdowns. For starters, The Cloud II headset is not the most difficult to drive, at an impedance of 60 Ohms, but I could not get my Moto G to push any sound through the headset. I’m thinking this may be more of a problem with my phone than anything else, but buyers should know that these aren’t the standard 32 Ohms that most products in this range are. Moreover, I wish that the cable was detachable, like it is with all of my other cans. The cable is certainly nice, thick, and even braided, but the thought of a pet chewing through it or something else equally terrible happening does give me pause. Also, I find it odd that Kingston has chosen to include an airplane adapter for the headset. I would venture to guess that the kind of person buying these is much more likely to need to split the 4 pole connector for use with their dedicated computer headphone and microphone jacks. Sure, you can defeat this problem with the use of the included 7.1 USB DAC, but that leads to another issue…
In my testing, using the USB dongle introduced some very minor yet annoying popping sounds in the background while listening to music, movies, television, and games. It was something many would probably not even have noticed, but I’m the kind of guy who is driven crazy by that kind of stuff. Hopefully it was just some kind of minor defect isolated to my unit. Similarly, I found the simulated 7.1 to be a bit of a gimmick. It does make a clear difference in the sound you are getting, but different is not always good, and I can’t really say that enabling the feature helped me pinpoint opponents better in Titanfall or CS:GO. Furthermore, enabling virtual 7.1 made listening to anything other than games, such as movies and music, sound awful, so I found myself forgoing the USB connection altogether for most of my time with the headset. To my understanding the real difference between the original Cloud and the Cloud II is this USB sound card, so the fact that it didn’t quite work well for me is something of a disappointment. Finally, while the Cloud II is for the most part a ridiculously comfortable headset with perfect clamping force, I did find it to be a bit too small, even fully extended, for my big head (I’m 6’4”).
So where does all that leave us? Well, I was thoroughly impressed with the sound quality I got out of the modestly priced Kingston HyperX II headset. So much so, in fact, that I would say there isn’t much out there in this price range that can even compete. If you think that the added functionality of the USB DAC is for you, then I can wholeheartedly recommend the Cloud II. And even without the USB unit in the picture, $100 isn’t that much to cough up for a headset of this quality, both in sound and build. Hopefully more manufacturers take note, and begin offering a similar level of excellence in their product lines. Until that happens, good on you Kingston, good on you.